- Amid concerns that Turkey and Russia could be drawn into direct conflict in Syria, Turkish President Erdogan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire.
- New tensions broke out last week between Turkey and the Syrian regime— which is backed by Russia— after the regime launched airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers. Turkey responded by launching a military offensive against the Syrian government.
- While the new offensive marks an increase in hostilities, the recent escalation has been ongoing since the Syrian regime tried to take over the last rebel holdout, displacing nearly one million refugees.
- Turkey, which believes the EU has not given it enough money to deal with the massive influx of refugees, retaliated by opening its border with Greece, which has created a separate problem in the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire in Syria Thursday amid recent escalations in the region.
Tensions between Turkey and Syria were heightened in December after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia, ramped up his military effort to take over the Idlib province. Idlib remains the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
The conflict reached a breaking point last week when the Syrian regime launched airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish troops, marking the worst military losses the Turkish army has seen in a single attack throughout the nine-year war in Syria.
Shortly after, Turkey launched a counteroffensive against the Syrian regime dubbed Operation Spring Shield.
Since then, violence has broken out all over Idlib. Turkey has launched airstrikes, ground offensives, and downed planes while Syrian forces have fought back.
Right now, it is unclear how many people on both sides have died due to difficulties assessing the situation on the ground and efforts by the Turkish government to censor independent media.
The conflict is incredibly significant as it represents the largest and most serious escalation of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian war. In fact, some experts have even described it as a direct war between Turkey and the Syrian regime.
This is quite notable because the conflicts between Turkey and Syrian have largely been fought through and with proxies. The two rarely confront each other, which makes the stakes even higher.
Russia, NATO, and the Ceasefire
While the new ceasefire reached by the two leaders may alleviate the situation, many are still worried that the new outbreak of violence could risk drawing Russia into a direct war with Turkey.
While Russia has been backing Syria, they have denied all responsibility for the airstrikes that killed the Turkish troops and set the offensive in motion.
Turkey, for its part, has been very careful not to directly blame Russia for the airstrike and instead has fully placed the fault on the Syrian regime.
While that might not be entirely true, the situation is complicated. By not implicating Russia, Turkey may be able to deescalate the situation and leave the door open for diplomacy.
To that point, Turkey has also said its operation is not meant to confront Russia.
Russia, at least for now, has refrained from intervening, which does seem to indicate that it does not want to get drawn into a war with Turkey.
Still, if something were to happen, it could create a situation where Turkey could be in direct conflict with Russian and Iranian forces, which also back the Syrian regime.
That, in turn, could drag in more powers. Turkey is a NATO member, and as badly as NATO, Europe, the U.S., and other Turkish allies do not want to involved in a war against Russia, they might not have much of a choice if things get worse.
There is also a problem with putting too much faith in a ceasefire: it did not work before.
Russia and Turkey agreed to another ceasefire under the 2018 Sochi agreement, but that largely fell apart.
While the details of the current ceasefire are still being hashed out, it is unclear if the new agreement will be more effective or if it will ultimately have the same fate.
Refugees and Greece
There is also another problem that has come from the Syrian regime trying to gain power over Idlib— refugees.
Idlib is home to about three million people, many of whom are refugees who have been forced from other parts of Syria.
Since Dec. 1, nearly one million people have been displaced by the Syrian regime— the biggest single displacement since the war started.
Many of those civilians are women and children, and many are living in dangerous conditions, sleeping outside or in tents in below-freezing conditions.
When Erdogan announced that he was starting the offensive, he also said that he was opening Turkey’s borders with Greece to Syrian refugees.
Greece, which has already taken in 3.7 million refugees, condemned the move.
It accused Turkey of using the refugees as “pawns” to pressure the European Union (E.U.) into giving them more money for the refugee crisis or to support their goals in the Syrian war.
This has also been echoed by the E.U. Council, which said in a statement that it “expresses its solidarity with Greece” and “strongly rejects Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes.”
Over the last few days, the situation has escalated rapidly. Greek forces have prevented the refugees from entering, reportedly pushing them back into Turkey.
Turkey responded Wednesday by sending 1,000 police to the border to resist the pushback. The Turkish government also accused Greece of firing live rounds at the refugees, killing at least three.
Greece denied the claims, calling them “fake news.”
Meanwhile, the Greek government said their border forces had prevented nearly 35,000 people from entering over the past five days, and arrested 244. It also said it is preparing to deport hundreds of others who made it through.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Axios) (Vox)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.